SpaceX departs space station; astronauts expected to splash down near Pensacola

SpaceX departs space station; astronauts expected to splash down near Pensacola
Astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken left the International Space Station on Saturday and are expected to splash down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday afternoon. (SpaceX via Associated Press)

Two astronauts aboard Space X’s Crew Dragon departed the International Space Station on Saturday night and are scheduled to splash down in the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida Panhandle city of Pensacola.

In May, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley traveled to the space station on the first commercial capsule to orbit the Earth, The New York Times reported. The capsule was built and run by Space X, the private rocket company founded by billionaire Elon Musk.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told WFTV that the agency and SpaceX chose Pensacola as the splashdown area due to Isaias, a tropical storm in the Atlantic that was expected to reintensify overnight and threaten Florida’s east coast.

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The capsule is expected to splash down in the Gulf at 2:41 p.m. on Sunday, the television station reported.

The capsule uncoupled from the space station at 7:35 p.m. EDT, the Times reported.

“It’s been a great two months and we appreciate all you’ve done to help us prove Dragon for its maiden flight,” Hurley radioed to SpaceX mission control. “We look forward to splashdown tomorrow.”

“Safe travels and have a successful landing. Endeavour’s a great ship. Godspeed,” NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, the space station’s commanding officer, responded to the astronauts.

The splashdown will be the first water landing for U.S. astronauts since a joint U.S-Soviet Union in 1975, The Washington Post reported. Four parachutes will open after the 21,200-pound capsule re-enters the atmosphere at temperatures that could approach 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the newspaper reported.

“Out the window, it’s all orange, and it’s glowing, and it’s quite a sight,” Garrett Reisman, a former NASA astronaut who flew two shuttle missions, told the Post. “But you don’t feel anything. You know you don’t want to be out there because its thousands of degrees, but on the inside it’s pretty cool. It’s very comfortable.”

“The hardest part was getting us launched, but the most important part is bringing us home,” Behnken said Saturday morning on the space station.